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LIV President's Blog 2012

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Diversity in the Asian Century

Diversity in the Asian Century

 

In the lead up to Cultural Diversity Week, it’s time to think about how cultural diversity affects the law. Whilst diversity consists of a multitude of cultures, faiths and languages, this blog asks, in what has been termed the “Asian Century”, are lawyers of ethnic minorities truly represented in our profession?

The stats

A recent study by the Diversity Council of Australia found that although 9.3% of the Australian labour force is Asian born, only 4.9 per cent make it to senior executive level. In ASX 200 companies, only 1.9 per cent of executives come from an Asian background. Although there are yet to be conclusive studies regarding the level of senior Asian lawyers in leadership positions, anecdotally it seems that they are significantly less in number than their Anglo-Saxon counterpart. The Asian Australian Lawyers Association (AALA) is currently compiling preliminary statistics which will hopefully be released later in the year to shed light on this important issue.

What the specialists say

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said at a seminar on unconscious bias in June 2014 that he believed that the concept of a “bamboo ceiling” did exist within Australian society. He said that issues such as meritocracy and that people of Asian culture simply do not aspire to leadership positions are inevitably raised during diversity discussions. However, the statistics surrounding Asians in senior leadership do not necessarily support a straightforward analysis that Asian professionals are less qualified or experienced for leadership roles. Mr Soutphommasane noted that the difficulty ran at a deeper level than merely within the profession, with few Asian faces appearing as TV presenters or on popular TV shows, creating an overall lack of representation of Asian people within the community.

Cam Truong of the Commercial Bar Association of Victoria said in a recent interview that “It is pleasing to see that the legal profession is becoming more diverse with increasing appointments of female judges in various jurisdictions and judges from Italian and Greek ethnic backgrounds.  However, the increasing numbers of Australians who were born in Asia or have an Asian ancestry and increasing numbers of law students in this demographic has not yet translated into comparable numbers of partners, senior barristers and judges from Asian backgrounds. Hopefully, over time, this will change.”

What can we do about it?

As the President of the AALA, Reynah Tang expressed “We need to continue to advocate for Asian Australian lawyers, making sure that those who make the decisions on appointments of partners, of senior counsel, of judicial and other office, are aware of the breadth and strength of Asian Australian talent.”

As a law student or a junior solicitor, a great way to get involved is to join organisations like the AALA who promote greater diversity in the law. They currently run a mentoring program which provides guidance to young lawyers to help them succeed in their chosen career path. You should also encourage your firm/organisation to actively participate in cultural diversity activities, particularly during Cultural Diversity Week. Cultural diversity not only benefits individuals but in an ever-increasing global market, can be vital for commercial success. Ongoing discussions and continued awareness surrounding these important issues will ensure that there are multi-coloured future faces of the legal profession sitting at the board room, bar table and at the bench.

About the author: Jing Zhu is a member of the LIV Council and a Committee Member of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association.

 
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Jing Zhu
Thanks Francis for your comments. You raise important concerns that the Asian Australian Lawyers Association are currently trying to tackle. In particular, the appointment of members of Asian background to the Judiciary has been raised and is part of the focus for our research. We are continuing our discussions with key stakeholders such as current members of the judiciary regarding furthering diversity on the bench. We also hope to run some CPD sessions around cultural awareness and use of these skills in negotiations/mediations/advocacy to promote understanding of these key issues among the profession.
18/03/2015 9:32:16 AM

Francis Lim
For litigants with Chinese/Asian background to have confidence in the Judiciary, it must be clealry apparent to them that they are judged by their peers (Judges/Magistrates) who have a good knowledge of their culture (business and life style) and there are Chinese/Asian represented in the Judiciary to promote knowledge of their culture. I am confident that there are lawyers (Barristers/Solicitors) from Asian/Chinese background in Victoria who are sufficiently competent to be appointed as judges in the County Court and Supreme Court and also appointed as QC.

I hope it is not the bamboo ceiling that is subconsciously hindering or discouraging such appointments.

How can we truthfully tell our Asian neighbours that we are a country with true diversity in all spheres of our society when there is NIL Chinese/Asian representation in an important branch of governance, the Judiciary? Is this the reason why we are not attracting sufficient international commercial arbitration/mediation in Australia?
12/03/2015 5:50:20 PM

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